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Bengals Week 16 rookie report: Onside recovery the latest special team feat Stanley Morgan accomplishes

Two UDFAs for the Bengals helped spark a historic comeback and keep it alive.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Miami Dolphins Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In the aftermath of the most important Bengals game in half a decade, there’s a lot to discuss. First and foremost, Cincinnati’s 38-35 defeat to the Miami Dolphins confirms their spot atop of the NFL Draft order and next year, the rookie report will likely be covering a certain Heisman-winning quarterback.

Having the first-overall pick does nothing when it comes to undrafted free agency, and the Bengals seemed to find a couple of good ones who didn’t hear their name called at the draft. The rookie report for this week just happens to focus on a couple of undrafted free agents who will most definitely be back in stripes in 2020.

Fred Johnson’s finally thrown into the fire at left tackle

Remember earlier in the season when the Bengals were rotating players at left tackle while Cordy Glenn was in the concussion protocol? Remember when they did this in 2017 as well before Glenn got to Cincinnati?

This appeared to be the plan with Glenn and rookie Fred Johnson for this week and the final week of the season.

After the first two drives, Johnson replaced Glenn at left tackle for a 13-play series that resulted in a 20-yard field goal; the Bengals’ first points of the game. Glenn and Johnson proceeded to trade off the next two drives until Glenn finished the first half and played the final two drives of the second quarter.

Glenn got the first drive of the second half and then it was all Johnson from then on. Since the game took a full overtime period to finish, Johnson out-snapped Glenn 62 to 28, essentially giving Johnson a full slate of work.

When asked about Johnson getting extended work during his press conference on Monday, head coach Zac Taylor had this to say:

“He showed some positive signs. We’ll continue to give him more work this week. We’ll make a decision on how much that is, but he’s a young player that has done really well in practice. He did really well on the tapes we watched when we claimed him. He certainly has all of the size and the traits you look for in a tackle, so we felt that it’s important to evaluate him. He’s earned those reps, and he’ll earn some more reps against Cleveland.”

Taylor isn’t bluffing either. Johnson played fairly well considering he was going up against the lowly Dolphins edge rushers. His movement skills pop off the screen when he gets the opportunity to block in space and his immense size can neutralize edge players who can’t break free with hand usage. He did have two false starts called against him, but mental errors can be expected when a player’s responsibilities increase.

What’s important is that we got a chance to see Johnson work in pass protection. In his first three games this year, he had just five snaps where he was protecting the quarterback. He had 45 in this game and earned a pass-blocking grade of 84.8 from Pro Football Focus.

Johnson will get a chance to play in the season finale and it’ll be interesting to see if he plays more than Glenn again. Johnson is under contract for one more year than Glenn is and he’s shown to be a valuable reserve who can play if needed. If this is a two-week tryout for him to stick around in 2020, Johnson should be passing.

Germaine Pratt steps up in run defense once again

One of the most embarrassing units in the entire NFL is be the Dolphins’ rushing game. Even with their 96 yards on 34 carries from Sunday afternoon, they’re still 31st in expected points contributed from the run game and their leading rusher is still Ryan Fitzpatrick, their quarterback.

Nevertheless, Pratt had himself another quality game in stopping the run. He led the defense in stops with seven and didn’t miss any of his season-high 10 solo tackles.

Both he and Johnson had favorable matchups and they took advantage, that’s better than the alternative.

Stanley Morgan lays it all out for the play of his life

Every week, there’s something new to praise Morgan about on special teams. This time, he made the play of his professional career.

Since the NFL changed certain kickoff rules last year, the onside kick has gotten much more difficult for the kicking team to recover. Incredible amounts of luck and effort are required for a successful recovery.

The Bengals got the luck from the bounce of Randy Bullock’s dribble kick, and they got all the effort Morgan was able to muster.

By high-pointing the ball off of the bounce in a crowd of three other players, Morgan was able to possess it for a split second before releasing it behind him so one of his teammates can fully recover it. The ball finds Jordan Evans’ gut and just like that, the Bengals can try and tie the game, which they did.

Morgan’s herculean efforts resulted in him suffering a concussion and he is currently in the concussion protocol according to Taylor. He did not return to the game, obviously, but his work was done. It’s the standard that he’s set on special teams that makes him perhaps the most impressive rookie the Bengals have played this year.

Oh yeah, these guys exist too

Michael Jordan had himself a solid start playing next to Johnson at left guard. He was charged with just one pressure from PFF, but struggled along with the rest of the offensive line to open up many holes for Joe Mixon and the running game. He definitely benefitted playing on the same line as Billy Price, who looked utterly awful at times at right guard.

On the defensive line, Freedom Akinmoladun made his NFL debut in the form of two snaps. Akinmoladun didn’t check into the game until late, and this was likely due to the fact that the defense was out there for 90 snaps and the rotation was completely exhausted. If he’s active again next week, he could find the field against the Browns for the coaches to get a better look at him.